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Kuroki Torii

There are many different kinds of torii, the open gateways at the entrance to jinja. An article in the July 18th issue of Jinja Shinpō was about the erection of a kuroki torii at a jinja in Kyoto Prefecture.

“Kuroki” literally means “black tree”, but it actually refers to wood with the bark still on. Thus, in a kuroki torii the trunks and branches of trees are used in their original form to create the gate. This is described as “the original form of a torii” in the article, but I’m not sure that there is any evidence for this. Mind you, I know nothing about the history of carpentry, so maybe there are good reasons to think so.

In any case, the article emphasises that the torii fits well into the environment of the jinja, which has thatched sanctuaries nestled among giant trees. The previous torii was also a kuroki torii, and was only set up in 2008. However, the uprights of the torii are set directly in the ground, which makes them vulnerable to rot, and so the torii needed to be replaced relatively quickly.

The jinja in question is Moto Isë Naiku Kōtai Jinja. Some of those words may look familiar, and the jinja does claim a link to Jingū at Isë. Specifically, it claims to be one of the places where Yamato-himë stopped with the sacred mirror housing Amaterasu Ōmikami while she was looking for a permanent home. There are quite a lot of these jinja, mentioned in accounts written between the eighth and thirteenth centuries and still active today.

They all enshrine Amaterasu Ōmikami, which makes the legends a bit odd. The story is that Amaterasu Ōmikami travelled around Japan until she found the place where she wanted to be enshrined. This means that all the earlier sites were rejected as unsuitable — and yet she is still enshrined there. This sort of idea is quite common, in that when the main sanctuary of a jinja is moved, the original site normally maintains a sacred aura, and may still be venerated.

Kami, it seems, never really move out.

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